Becoming a widow is traumatic. It may be though illness, as my experience was, or it may be through an accident. But it doesn’t change the outcome. It’s still tragic, awful, heartbreaking, and any other adjective that you can think of.
When I lost my husband, after almost four years of a rare auto Immune disease, a variety of comments and actions were directed my way. Some people whom I had considered friends stepped away and I have never heard from them again. It’s extremely sad for the widow/er as they then have to grieve those who are still alive as well as their loss.
Some friends didn’t know what to say, so said nothing. Some didn’t want to upset me so said nothing. Some said “call me If you need me” It’s all of the above and more that led me here, to write this article.
What’s grief? How do you even define that word? Grief is an emotion that messes with your entire body. It doesn’t just mess with your head, make you cry and so on. It can cause detrimental effects with your appetite, sleep and immune system. There is also a known syndrome called “widow brain” – a bit like baby brain for new mums. I can tell you…..it happens!!
Grief is not a competition. It’s not who cried the shortest or longest. It’s not who deals with things the quickest. Everyone handles grief in a different way. It’s important to remember that though someone may not appear to be grieving, it doesn’t mean they aren’t. Grief manifests in many forms. A widow/er may have physical changes such as weight gain or loss. They may show a type of depression or loneliness. They may “shut you out” or say no to social events. This Is grief.
Grief can go on for days, weeks, months or years. The important thing to remember Is that while you may feel that you are managing your grief as a widow/er, anniversaries surrounding your loved one can and will reignite those feelings.
The level of grief can depend on the loss. One persons grief at a job loss may be minimal to losing a pet. My spousal loss may be the equivalent of someone losing a parent. That has to remembered. However with that in mind, it should be remembered that when you lose a spouse, that’s not the end. You lose your soulmate, if you were as lucky as me. You lose your best mate, your life partner, your financial partner, the person you come home to, the person you cook for , the person you talk to and so on. Spousal loss is deep.
“Call me when you want/need me.”
When a friend is going through spousal loss, everyone will have an opinion. Everyone wants to say something. “Call me when you want me” was a phrase I heard quite frequently. Trust me when I say, as a widow, you barely remember to get out of bed some mornings let alone call someone. Trust me when I say, as a widow, you will never call someone for fear of being a burden. Trust me when I say, as a widow, the phrase, while well meaning, is a redundant one. What a widow/er needs someone to say is “I’m on your doorstep now. Let me in and I’ll make us a coffee” or “Im outside, we’re going for lunch and I don’t care whether you talk or we just sit.” That’s much more beneficial. It means more.
“You’ll get over It eventually and move on”
Well meaning of course, but to a widow/er this comes across as “enough already!”. Every widow/er knows that there comes a time to move forward, move on, have their next stage in life. But to be reminded of It throughout the grieving process, is upsetting. It comes across to a widow/er, that their friends have had enough with the grief. It comes across that their life has moved on so why hasn’t yours? Moving on, or as I call it, moving forward (Im damn sure I am not ready to move on right now!), is done In many ways. Some will move forward by talking less of their loved one. For some, they’ll talk more. For some, moving forward, will be dealing with possessions. For some, moving forward will be a social media post acknowledging their loved one on special days. Whatever it takes for the widow/er to move forward, should be nurtured and allowed. No one knows what they are going through except them.
“I don’t know what to say.”
This is a great example of what a widow/er needs to hear. Honesty. Six words that says it all. Those six words say ‘I know you lost someone, I have no idea how you’re feeling or what you need but I’m here.’ Those six words give the widow/er the option to say everything or nothing. This is the 18 carat gold statement.
“I didn’t know if you’d need me.”
Again, honesty. You’re not covering your tracks to a widow/er. You’re simply telling them that you didn’t know what to do. This allows the widow/er to move this conversation in the direction that’s right for them. The conversation may be uncomfortable for you, but if you want to be there for your widow/er friend you have to manage that discomfort.
What a widow/widower really would like…
As a widow I could give you a list, literally a list. I would say..someone just turning up at my house with food. Someone offering to shop for me. Someone cleaning the house for me. Someone coming and making me a coffee, understanding if I don’t talk or don’t drink It. Understanding when social invitations are a no. Understanding why the invites are a no. Understanding that I will never call you when you tell me to ring because I don’t want to burden you. Understanding i will never call you when upset as I know you are grieving too.
There are countless more things to consider. It’s very easy for me to look at the beginning to my widow life in hindsight. If I am honest, I couldn’t tell you if someone called me. I couldn’t tell you what conversations I had. This year has been a blur. However, I do know how I felt, how I feel now and I can see the family and friends that are still here for me. Some family stepped away, that’s their own decision. Some friends have done the same, again their decision. What matters is, I am here and I have beautiful memories that will last me for years.